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Guardian Ghost of the Naparimas
The legend of Dumfries Baba, the benevolent ghost of a white man on horseback, is an integral component of the folklore of the sugar-belt communities of the Naparimas. The saga goes that in the 1860s, Hermitage Estate was under the stewardship of a Scotsman out of Dumfriesshire. His charity towards the Indian indentured immigrants endured long after his death in the early 1870s.
His final resting place, though much vandalised, can still be seen just off the roadway into Gandhi Village, near Debe, and is marked by a solitary pommecythere tree. In 1958, it was visited and photographed by anthropologists Arthur and Juanita Niehoff, who were conducting a study of the Indian communities of the Oropouche Lagoon basin. The thesis indicated that the grave was strewn with offerings made by obeah practitioners, and that a pile of small stones was erected on the tomb’s surface to designate where the body was buried.
I have tried to ascribe an authentic identity to Dumfries Baba, with only limited success. The records of Hermitage Estate in the period of Dumfries Baba’s life are disjointed at best. The San Fernando Gazette, which was published between 1850 and 1896, carried fairly detailed obituaries—mainly of the planter class.
Only one record matches both the time and place: William Boyes Esquire died on August 13, 1870, at Dumfries Estate, South Naparima, Western Ward, of marsh fever (dengue) aged 29 years, formerly of Dumfriesshire, Scotland. If indeed William Boyes is Dumfries Baba, then he could have come to the colony as a teenager and thus would have had at least a decade in which to establish a sterling reputation amongst the indentured immigrants. It is also likely that a youthful overseer with no preconceived notions about managing native labour would have had more benign employee relations than his older, more seasoned counterparts.
In 2004, the site shot into the limelight when the immediate area was identified as an Amerindian midden. It was excavated by Dr Basil Reid and a team from the University of the West Indies yielding potsherds, shell refuse, and stone tools, as well as an odd miscellany of 19th-century bottle fragments, no doubt the remnants of liquid offerings left by those seeking the aid of Dumfries Baba.
Many are the people of Debe and Gandhi Village who can tell of the protecting spirit of Dumfries Baba. One elderly lady, now deceased, recounted how she had lost her week’s wages by accident. Fearing a beating from her parents, she visited the grave site and prayed for the aid of the dead Scotsman. Lo and behold, on her way home, there was a pay envelope on the verge of the road identical to the one she had lost, containing the exact amount of money.
Other sources claim to have actually seen the horseman. There are so many legends surrounding Dumfries Baba that must be taken with a pinch of salt, but as the old saying goes, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.
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